CHURCH attendance has risen slightly, but still has a long way to go to reach pre-pandemic levels, new figures released on Friday by the C of E’s data-analysis team suggest.
The figures, in Statistics for Mission 2022, are based on data submitted through the annual Statistics for Mission returns from churches gathered in October each year, and from government statistics. Eighty-seven per cent of churches submitted data — much higher than the previous year’s figure of 76 per cent.
In 2022, all-age average weekly attendance, which includes Sunday and midweek services, was 654,000. This was up from 605,000 in 2021 (News, 9 December 2022) — but still significantly lower than in 2019, the last year to be unaffected by the pandemic, when it was 854,000.
Most weekly worshippers attended a Sunday service: 547,000 in 2022 (509,000 in 2021, and 707,000 in 2019).
Average weekly attendance for adults was seven per cent higher than in 2021, but still 23 per cent lower than in 2019; average weekly attendance for children was 17 per cent higher than in 2021, but 28 per cent lower than in 2019.
Attendance at Christmas services was 1.622 million, up from 970,000 the previous year — but significantly lower than the 2.327 million in 2019.
Easter attendance also rose, from 523,000 in 2021 to 861,000 in 2022 — still some way short of the 1.176 million who attended Easter services in 2019.
The report suggests that, while society was returning to normal in 2022, Covid had not gone away. “Churches were still experiencing Covid-19-related disruption, including cancellation of services because of illness.” It is not possible to quantify the effect that this disruption had on attendance, it says.
There appears to have been an element of catch-up for some services. The total of marriages and services of prayer and dedication after civil marriage, severely restricted under Covid rules, was 31,400 in 2022 — the same as in 2019.
Church of EnglandBaptisms, marriages, and funerals 2009-2022
Similarly, there was a sharp rise in baptisms in the year to October 2022: the total number of people baptised, or for whom a birth or adoption thanksgiving service was held, was 81,800 in 2022, compared with 55,200 in 2021; and 89,100 in 2019.
The statistics also record a significant rise in confirmations. There were 70 per cent more in 2022 (10,900) than in 2021 (6400), although 19 per cent fewer than in 2019 (13,400).
The 2022 questionnaire asked about social action and community outreach. In all, 77 per cent of churches who responded either ran, hosted, or participated in at least one project. More than 13,000 responses were received, listing 31,300 social action projects.
The greatest number were foodbanks, which showed a slight increase on 2019. Other types of project had decreased in number since 2019, but community cafés were also up.
The figures confirm once again that the churchgoing population is older than the general population. In a typical congregation, 35.6 per cent of the people will be aged 70 or over, compared with 13.5 per cent in the street.
Perhaps the greatest contrast with pre-pandemic church life is seen in a table showing attendance at an average, middle-sized church. In 2019, 34 people attended worship during a typical week (25 on a Sunday). In 2022, this had fallen to 25 (22 on a Sunday).
Church of EnglandSocial-action projects, 2019 and 2022